A key inspiration for Julia Ducournau‘s debut feature film Raw was watching The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at the age of six. Besides probably needing a parental intervention into such viewing habits the event goes some way to explaining Ducournau’s taste – a word that in Raw’s case is incredibly loaded – but where Tobe Hooper‘s seminal horror is all guts and screaming Raw is a different beast altogether.
Arriving at veterinary school Justine (Garance Marillier) discovers that student life includes a fair amount of hazing and, to the shock of this vegetarian, eating of raw meat. But what starts as an initiation wakens something in Justine, an appetite that cannot be quashed. Thankfully her elder sister Alex (Ella Rumpf) is on hand to guide her through her new school, and more importantly her new diet.
From the outset Raw utterly succeeds in unsettling. A harrowing car crash feels relatively tame compared to what follows. Ducournau shoots the student life with as much terror as the actual horror scenes themselves. The camera being jostled and barged amid hot, writhing student bodies as they debauch their way through parental freedom.
But it is in the scenes in which Justine discovers her new cravings, cravings which are disturbingly elevated over the course of the film, that Ducournau excels. Her camera locked in tight close-ups on Justine’s innocence being slowly eaten away to give way to something both sexualised and repulsive.
This is a coming of age story akin to Let The Right One In. A film in which innocence isn’t so much lost as it is consumed, regurgitated and then thrown-up with bile and spite. Throw in an accurate – albeit it exaggerated – sibling rivalry, and Raw is the kind of film that, without the horror aspect, would probably have an indie soundtrack that you’d be hearing in dorm rooms around the world for the next three years. Think Blue Is The Warmest Colour but with blood, guts and gore instead of romance. Raw is something else, never predictable, always guided by its own laws, and to our benefit, with such brutal honesty it will have you quivering with anticipation.
In the lead role Marillier is a revelation. Turning in the kind of performance that should, if there is any justice in the world, have her on every casting director’s one to see list. To begin with she is put upon, isolated in this dog eat dog world. But it’s watching her grow teeth and, literally, bite back that truly satisfies. There is the same level of satisfaction to be had from her transformation in Raw as there was Walter White’s in Breaking Bad. Supporting her brilliantly is Rumpf as a black sheep of the family, confident and just the right side of deranged to make Justine look all the more damaged.
A horror that achieves exactly what it sets out to do, horrify. Raw is a film with a salacious appetite with a climax that lands so perfectly you will feel perfectly replete.